Beyond Housing customer Vikki Gardner is approaching her 53rd birthday and she’s promised herself a very special present. A brand-new driving licence!
Vikki is planning to join the rapidly rising number of women over 50 who are tackling the test in a trend that has seen an increase of 31% over the last four years. You could argue that this trend might indicate that in 2019 there’s nothing particularly remarkable in a 52 year old lady deciding to take driving lessons, but in Vikki’s case you may feel inclined to change your view.
Step back ten years and Vikki was struggling to recover from a massive through-hip leg amputation which at one point threatened to claim her life. “Septicaemia had left my surgeon with no choice but to perform this very serious kind of total leg amputation,” she said, “I learned later that at this point in his career he’d only carried out this procedure on three occasions and sadly the other two patients had not survived.”
At one point during Vikki’s nine-month hospital stay her wound had become so seriously infected that she was forced to undergo three emergency sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber to temporarily increase the level of oxygen in the bloodstream in order to more effectively fight infection.
“I became very ill while in the hospital,” she said, “I clearly remember hearing people say I wouldn’t be able to walk again, but my dad kept me positive with his endless support and sense of humour. He compared me to one of the little clockwork ornamental ballerinas that you used to see in gift shops. They would pirouette around on just one leg and I thought to myself, ‘Yes that’ll be me, here comes the spinning ballerina!’ I eventually came to terms with losing my leg, and also with the fact that the nature of my amputation had ruled out the fitting of a prosthetic replacement, but I made the decision that it wasn’t going to ruin my life.”
Vikki was eventually discharged from hospital to face a world that, for her, would continue to change. Her long-term partner felt unable to be a part of her new life and the couple parted. “When the reality of the situation hit him I think he panicked,” she explained, “He knew I’d be in a wheelchair and felt that he’d be unable to care for me. I suppose he gave up on me because he couldn’t deal with the situation. I can understand that because there’s no gentle transition from two legs to one; your life just changes overnight.”
Vikki eventually decided to move closer to her parents and soon joined them in Filey, first moving in to a small outbuilding in her sister’s garden and then gaining a tenancy of her own in the Beyond Housing bungalow where she still lives today. “I love Filey,” she said, “And I love this little house but after a while things began to get on top of me. I suppose I resorted to my own kind of retail therapy by buying things I didn’t really need and just piling them up around the house. It was like building my own obstacle course! I actually hated it but for some reason I just kept going and I never got rid of anything!”
Vikki’s situation was eventually picked up by her housing officer and she was referred to Beyond Housing Tenancy Support Officer Jodie Pearson with whom she happily formed an understanding relationship as they worked together to gradually de-clutter the little bungalow. “I liked Jodie so much.” Vikki said, “She had faith in me and I didn’t want to let her down. She set me little targets and we eventually cleared it all; she even helped me with the painting, although I did most of the kitchen myself. I think it looks pretty good for a lady with one leg up a ladder!” Vikki’s sense of humour is irrepressible and her smiles and laughter are infectious but she couldn’t hold back a small tear or two when she said, “Jodie has supported me from day one and I really don’t know what I’d do without her.”
So why make the decision to learn to drive at this point in her life? “When I was younger there wasn’t really a need,” she explained, “In the city there were plenty of buses, or my partner drove, but in Filey it’s different. Every year I’d say, ‘I’ll learn to drive’ but there always seemed to be a reason why I didn’t. Then my parents decided to move to Malton and I suppose that was the trigger; I sent off for my provisional licence and got my lessons booked with a lovely instructor whose relaxed nature and sense of humour has given me the confidence to press on towards my test. I set myself a target to pass my test before my birthday in March and it’s getting pretty close now but I think I can do it! Driving for me has been like growing angel’s wings. I’ll be able to go anywhere I want by myself, without having to be dependent on others.”
Jason Lowe, Head of Independent and Supported Living at Beyond Housing said, “Vikki is a remarkable lady and an inspiration to all of us. It’s pleasing to hear how long-standing support from Beyond Housing colleagues has enabled her to overcome the considerable barriers that could so easily have prevented her from living an independent life.”